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Familiarize yourself with state and federal laws governing your professional conduct.
By Stephen M. Perle, DC, MS, FICC
“Doctors of chiropractic should maintain the highest standards of professional and personal conduct, and should comply with all governmental jurisdictional rules and regulations.” ~ Tenet II, ACA Code of Ethics
Doctor, when are you not a chiropractor? While it might be convenient to think of yourself as “on duty” and “off duty,” this just isn’t the reality of life.
First of all, I think most of us think of being a chiropractor as fundamental to who we are. But if you do think you have an off-duty life, keep in mind that regulatory agencies, the public and your peers (both inside and outside ACA) will judge you based on your personal conduct, even if it is unrelated to your professional conduct.
Doctors of chiropractic who are convicted of crimes unrelated to their practices are likely to have their practice licenses suspended or revoked. This is based on the common belief that professionals who don’t know right from wrong in their personal lives are unlikely to have a moral compass to help chart an ethical course in their professional responsibilities, either. Someone who is untrustworthy in one domain is often (and rightly so) not trusted in other domains.
Sometimes deciding whether an action is good or bad can be challenging. In such cases, use this simple test: Think about whether you would want a story about your behavior on the front page of the newspaper. At one time in history, the punishment for many crimes was simply to expose the criminal to public ridicule, scorn and even shunning, e.g., the pillory, stocks or wearing a sign naming the crime.
Would we expect our patients to understand, forgive and forget if, for example, the newspaper reported our drunk driving, theft, arson, murder—even though these crimes are unrelated to our practice? Of course not. Thus, to avoid the harsher judgment that comes with being a professional, our personal conduct in public must always be exemplary…and our professional conduct must always be superior.
It’s easiest to avoid inappropriate behaviors by simply not violating any government rules and regulations. This applies to our jobs as chiropractors as well as any roles we play as public servants. Years ago, however, it could be challenging to find the rules and regulations that govern our professional behavior. Some states were better than others at making that information available to licensees.
I teach ethics and risk management around the country. To prepare for these seminars, I search the Web sites of state chiropractic boards. During my seminars, I have met many doctors who are unaware of the state and federal rules and regulations that govern their profession. Remember that ignorance is not a valid defense. Fortunately, the Internet has facilitated the accessibility of this information. I recommend visiting your state board’s Web site regularly to stay up to date on rules and regulations and also maintaining membership in your state association. (To find state board Web sites, visit the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards online at www.fclb.org.)
Obviously, your ACA membership is critical to keeping abreast of the federal rules and regulations that affect our profession.
Dr. Perle is a professor of Clinical Sciences at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic, where he has taught an ethics course for more than 15 years.